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Free Minds & Free Markets

Tom Woods: The Making of an Anti-War Libertarian

Reason's Matt Welch sat down with the popular libertarian writer and podcaster to discuss his ideological journey, his LP plans, and controversial past associations.

Tom Woods stands accused of many things, but laziness is not one of them.

A senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Woods is the author of a dozen books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. He's written curricula for the Ron Paul homeschool program; he co-hosts, along with economist Robert Murphy, the weekly Contra-Krugman podcast, which dissects columns by New York Times Nobel laureate Paul Krugman; and he posts a new episode of the popular Tom Woods Show every day.

A champion of the Austrian School of economics and a devotee of Murray Rothbard, Woods didn't exactly start out as a radical anti-statist. He was, he says, a "moderate Republican," happy to lavish government spending on domestic programs and to launch bombs at evildoers abroad. It was the 1992 presidential campaign of Pat Buchanan, who was against the Gulf War and opposed to new military adventures abroad, that began the transformation. Now, Woods is one of the leading antiwar voices in the libertarian movement.

Never one to shy away from a social media scrap, Woods got into an epic Twitter feud last summer with the leadership of the Libertarian Party. One side called the Mises Institute a gateway drug to white nationalism and the alt-right, while Woods and his allies mocked the Libertarian National Committee as a bunch of "social justice warriors." Then something curious happened: After the L.P.'s Mises Caucus failed to dislodge party chair Nicholas Sarwark at this year's national convention, Woods and his friends redoubled their efforts to transform the party from within.

I sat down with Woods recently to talk about his ideological journey, his plans with the Libertarian Party, his past associations with such controversial entities as the League of the South, and his assessment of Donald Trump, among many other topics.

Edited by Mark McDaniel and Todd Krainin. Cameras by Jim Epstein and McDaniel.

Oxygen Garden by Chris Zabriskie is licensed under a Attribution License.

Photo credit: George Skidmore. (CC BY-SA 2.0.)

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  • BestUsedCarSales||

    This website is really going down hill.

  • TomW||

    Great to see Tom Woods and Reason talking.

    (Note to avoid confusion from my username, I'm not related to Woods, we just have a similar name)

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    That's the sort of thing that Tom Woods would say.

  • TomW||

    Busted! :)

  • loveconstitution1789||

    According to Wikipedia, Tom Woods is a Rothbardian Anarcho-Capitalist.

    So NOT Libertarian.

  • Yellow Tony||

    There's only one real Libertarian in the world, and that's me. (smirks)

  • Yellow Tony||

    No strike that: in this and all other universes!

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Tom Woods is not a Libertarian, is all I commented on.

  • ||

    He is most certainly a libertarian. It's a HUGE tent. He is simply not OUR type of libertarian. Anarchocapitalism is a specific branch of libertarianism.

    Therefore, Dr. Woods IS a libertarian; however, what you probably mean to say is that he is not a MINARCHIST. I'm a big fan of his, and greatly appreciate his contributions in the advancement of the Liberty Movement, even if I don't agree with everything he says, myself being a pro-state Classical Liberal (which, in turn, is another branch).

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    LC's definition is somewhat ill-defined, but seems to be something close to absolute allegiance to his idea of the Constitution.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Libertarians dont need the constitution but for American Libertarians its a great way to maintain rule of law in a limited way. If the constitution was followed that is.

    Libertarianism is about maximum liberty and rights under rule of law, limited and tiny government, free market, NAP, and proprty rights.

    All other ideologies oppose one of those things.people partly hate Libertarianism for being so hard to hide under the tiny tent.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Its not a big tent. Youre either a Libertarian or your not.

    Anarchists are NOT libertarians. The main difference being Libertarians are for rule of law, Anarchists are not.

    Classic liberals are not Libertarians either, as they are okay with slavery. Libertarians are against slavery. Of course classical slavery does not really exist anymore because it was hijacked by Leftists. Libertarians filled that void but the USA might have been formed if the Founders were Libertarians since slavery would have been a deal breaker.

  • Red Tony||

    All hail loveprostitution, the one true Libertarian!

    At least, according to him.

  • John C. Randolph||

    If you can't imagine how to have the rule of law without robbing your neighbors at gunpoint to pay for it, then you need to expand your reading list. Woods is a Libertarian. You're not.

    -jcr

  • ||

    (1/2)
    Just discovered Tom's podcast over the summer and it has become a favorite of mine. I had heard about him before, but was hesitant to give him even a look, due to his alleged past association with the neo-confederate movement a long time ago. However, I listened to what he had to say and I found myself agreeing with him on a lot. Also turned out that his involvement with the neo-confederate movement was not only when he was in college, but he was also not aware going in that they were Southern Nationalists; he went to a couple early meetings with the initial assumption that it was a decentralist organization that simply favored antifederalism, and that it was "confederate" not in the "Confederate States of America" type of way, but the "Articles of Confederation" (simply favoring a devolved confederate system that favored increased state sovereignty). I don't think it was even called "the League of the South" at first; Tom seems to have left shortly after they took on the explicit neo-confederate platform. Besides, the guy is a New Englander anyway, so he wasn't really the neo-confederate type anyway.

  • SIV||

    It was originally called "The Southern League " and it was always neo-Confederate. It was Southern "culturally nationalist". They were somewhat successors to the Southern Agrarians.

  • SIV||

  • ||

    (2/2)
    Tom doesn't seem to have a single racist bone in his body, and he's a lot more socially tolerant than I assumed that he would be (I went in thinking he'd be a social conservative). He's pretty much what I would call an "anarchocentrist". While I am nowhere close to being an Ancap, and I do have my criticisms of Rothbardianism, listening to him has actually opened me up to interesting new ideas I have never thought of before, and I have honestly gained somewhat of a newfound respect for the Mises Institute, which, while a little too purist for my tastes (I'm more of a Cato guy), does a fantastic job in its promotion of Austrian Economics, its opposition to war, its support for the Liberty Movement, and, perhaps most of all, its mission to preserve countless pieces of libertarian literature and make them available for free to the public.

    Either way, Dr. Woods is a funny and insightful guy who I have come to really enjoy, and I plan on donating to the show at some point eventually.

  • MargeBouvier||

    I love that you are willing to learn from people you don't necessarily agree with on everything! What is wrong with that? I try and learn from anyone who has some wisdom! I learned a lot from Noam Chomsky, I listened to some really good economists (not Austrians) to help me understand the financial crisis. I've read Howard Zinn, and many others who I disagree with on lots of issues. For Libertarian thought, I read and listen to Cato, Reason, Mises, Econlib.

    I've known about Tom for 10 years or so, since before he had his podcast. I used to look forward to his speeches on Youtube! (Yes I'm a geek) In all those years I've never heard him say anything racist, nothing about being pro-slavery or pro-confederate. It's ridiculous. I'm not a southerner, I'm not even American, so that stuff would not fly with me. At all.

    We don't have to all agree with each other, but we need to quit fighting with each other, pointing fingers, looking for flaws. As far as mainstream thought & politics are concerned, we are all the same anyway! We may as well stick together & try and change some minds.

    That is all.

  • Kevin Bjornson||

    The LP (especially the national) has become so bad, Tom Woods stands head and shoulders above them. Even though he has many flaws.

    His biggest flaw? His slogan, 'anti-war" indicates a failure of thought. Of course, most people would prefer to avoid war. But not wanting war, and not getting war, are two entirely separate and distinct things. More war may result with the best of intentions, once the relatively free countries disband or hobble their militaries.

    To get perspectives that point to a third way, please "like" the FB page, Libertarian Party Defense Caucus

  • John C. Randolph||

    Don't you need to go burn a village to save it or something?

    Fuck off, slaver.

    -jcr

  • James_R||

    I get the feeling that this Tom Woods is someone whose podcast/radio and publishing ventures are most likely backed by the billionaires who fund the libertarian think tanks he chairs or co-chairs.

  • MargeBouvier||

    He's not the chair of any think tank. He's affiliated with the Mises Institute, but not its chair (you should know the usual libertarian billionaires want nothing to do with Mises.org).

    If you ever heard Tom's show (which I assume you haven't, since all you have to go on is a feeling), and heard him hawking Harry's razors, Indochino suits and Away suitcases (so much so that guests joke about it), you'd know he doesn't have billionaire backing.

    Did you know that Reason and the Cato Institute are funded by billionaires? The Koch brothers, actually. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

    Do some research before jumping to conclusions.

  • James_R||

    "He's not the chair of any think tank."...........He's a senior fellow at the Mises institute which is indeed a think tank.

    "Did you know that Reason and the Cato Institute are funded by billionaires?".................Yeah, when I discovered that, it made me start re-thinking a lot of my devout libertarian beliefs.

  • CatoTheChipper||

    It is perfectly appropriate to criticize Woods' libertarian bona fides, but the Welch-Woods interviews are a conciliatory initiative instigated by Michael Malice.

    Consequently, Welch does not pose hardball questions to trip Woods up, but slow pitches softballs with every question. Click here for a more incisive interview in which the interviewer succinctly confronts Woods on his controversial politics.

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